Reframe: Episode 55

When Work and Family Life Collide

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On this episode, we talk about the challenges, social expectations, and the cultural biases that many women still experience when trying to balance work and family life. Dr. Hassan Raza also discusses his research in this area, as well as how both women and employers can help reduce the conflicts that can arise when work and family collide.

Additional music used in this episode: “Transitioning” by Lee Rosevere 

Read the transcript

James Loy:

This is Reframe, the podcast from the College of Education, Health and Society on the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

On this episode, we talk about the challenges, social expectations, and the cultural biases that many women still experience when trying to balance work and family life. And we’ll also speak with Dr. Hassan Raza about his research in this area, as well as how both women and employers can help reduce the conflicts that can arise when work and family collide. 

(Music fade)

Many people feel the struggle of balancing work and family life. And some, working mothers especially, often feel it more than most. 

In recent decades, employees have faced a rising tide of demands. From longer hours and erratic schedules to new technologies that blur the lines between the professional and the personal, both men and women have been forced to adapt to increasingly dynamic workplaces.

But the division of labor is still fraught with disparity. Because many working women are often burdened with additional expectations, cultural biases, and even systemic inequalities that can increase the conflicts and disrupt the balance between their work lives and their family lives.

Here’s Dr. Hassan Raza, Miami University visiting assistant professor of family science and social work, who specializes in this area.

Hassan Raza:

For working women, it is becoming a greater problem. Because compared to the past, more women are coming out and they are working. Almost 50% of the workplace is made of women. So they are experiencing challenges in the workplace based on gender, and based on the intersection of race, class, and gender. At the same time, they are also doing most of the work in the household. So for them, it is becoming a very serious problem.

James Loy:

When compared to men, women still spend almost twice as much time on household chores, and over twice as much time caring for children and family members. Plus, women also generally report being more dissatisfied with their work-life balance overall.

The division between men and women might be better than it used to be. Raza says the gaps are reducing, a little bit. Because gender roles are changing. But at the same time, he says, there are also more demands emerging, especially due to the emergence of diverse families and the dynamic pace and stressors of workplaces today.

So Raza is concerned with helping working women, mothers in particular, successfully navigate within and between these spaces.

His work uses data analysis and statistical modeling combined with bioecological theory, to study how reciprocal interactions between working mothers, their work environment, and their home life intersect and change over time.

In two recent studies, Raza and his colleagues examined both work-family conflict and work-family balance among working U.S. mothers. 

In the first study, conflict was defined as times when women that felt the demands of work interfered with their family life, and vice versa. And the study accounted for variables like race, education, age, marital status, and work intensity and more. 

So, Dr. Raza, can you describe for us in a little more detail what the premise of this study included?

Hassan Raza:

So there are four different parts of that study. I examine the within and between person differences among working mothers, in terms of their work-to-family and family-to-work conflict. I also examined whether their work family and family-to-work conflicted changed over time. And I also analyzed the relationship between a non-standard work schedule relationship quality and work-to-family conflict and family-to-work conflict. So this was the focus of my study.

James Loy:

So we have established that there are many challenges for women in the workplace. There’s cultural biases and many kinds of social expectations. It is probably no secret to the women themselves who are in these situations that they face certain challenges. So what was unique about your study? What was unique in how you approached this problem?

Hassan Raza:

So, basically, I used a longitudinal data. That was one of the unique aspects. So instead of studying women at one point of time, I was able to see the changes over time. Another uniqueness of my study is that I analyzed their within person differences and in between person differences in terms of their work-to-family and family-to-work conflict. And I also accounted for those differences, when I analyzed the relationship between independent and dependent variables.

James Loy:

So when looking at these two different aspects, again, work-to-family conflict, and the other side of that, family-to-work conflict what did you find? What were some of the results?

Hassan Raza:

I found out that mothers are different. Apparently they look the same. But they are different in terms of their work-to-family and family-to-work conflict experiences. So I found significant variability at the within person level and between person level. 

And they experience work-to-family conflict and family-to-work conflict over time, in a nonlinear way. Their family-to-work conflict increased over time. Whereas their work-to-family conflict decreased over time.

But at the same time, I found out those mothers who have greater relationship quality, it can decrease their family-to-work conflict. So, relationship quality is an important factor for them that can help them reduce their family-to-work conflict. And finally, I also found out that non-standard work schedule predicted increased work-to-family conflict for working mothers. 

James Loy:

So this means that if women are having these kinds of work-family related conflicts, two things that can help are, one, better relationships at home. Then also, number two, working more standard hours? Correct?

Hassan Raza:

Yeah. Obviously, because relationship quality provides them with a reciprocal interaction. So reciprocal interaction is essential for the functioning of the proximal processes, that can help them experience greater levels of development. And that will obviously help them reduce their family-to-work conflict.

And so, those women who are all working in the standard work schedule, they are also experiencing work-to-family conflict and family-to-work conflict. But w e need to also address their individual differences as well. However, compared to these women who are working in a non-standard work schedule, those women who are in the non-standard work schedule, they are more underprivileged. Because they have less education. They are single mothers. They are non-white. So they are more vulnerable. So we need to address their individual needs, regardless where they are. Whether they are working in standard work schedule. Or in non-standard work schedule. However, these underprivileged working mothers who are working in non-standard work schedule, if we can't bring them from the non-standard to the standard work schedule, but at least what we can do, we can understand their individual needs. We can make the context supportive to them. That can help them reduce their work-to-family.

James Loy:

So working a nonstandard schedule greatly increased work-to-family conflict. That is, schedules that didn’t have much consistently or fall between the standard 9 to 5 hours, for example. Women working all different hours of the day had more conflict. But on the other hand, better relationship quality significantly decreased family-to-work conflict. 

The results also proved to be heavily influenced by race and class, meaning diversity is a big issue, which was also part of a reoccurring theme that would emerge again.

Because in the follow-up study, Raza and his colleagues also looked at work-family balance.

This new study introduced the concept of spillover, which describes the how experiences can carry over from one area of life into another. So a negative work-to-family spillover are those stressors at work that can spillover, or carry over into and affect family life. While a positive family-to-work spillover is just the opposite. It describes how a good home life can make work life better too.

This follow-up study also again looked at something called proximal processes, which is one of the newest aspects of bioecological theory. 

Simply put, proximal processes are those ongoing and reoccurring reciprocal interactions between people and environments that change over time.

So, Dr. Raza, this study is related to the first, and it is also newer. Where the first study looked at work-to-family conflict, this new study is about finding balance between those work and family dynamics. Can you describe a bit more about this study?

Hassan Raza:

Sure. So I used the same data set. Longitudinal data set of 302 working mothers. And I examined the mediating role of positive family-to-work spillover, and work-to-family spillover, between the relationship of a non-standard work schedule and relationship quality, and work family balance. And how these relationships are shaped by the race - by women's race. Educational level. And the availability of family-friendly policies. 

James Loy:

So again you used relationship quality and a non-standard work schedule as key variables. And what did you find this time? What were the results of this work-family balance study?

Hassan Raza:

I found out that relationship quality increased positive family-to-work spillover. And positive family-to-work spillover increased work family balance, for white working mothers and those working mothers who had family-friendly policies available.

James Loy:

What do you think were some of the most important findings?

Hassan Raza:

The most important finding is that relationship quality is helping mothers, those mothers, who are working in those workplaces where the family-friendly policies are available. So those mothers who are already privileged. Who are highly educated. Who are white. They are more likely to work in those workplaces where they have more family friendly policies available. So if they have family friendly policies available, it magnifies the effect of relationship quality on work family balance by creating positive family-to-work spillover.

So relationship quality is helping them. Because they are working in those workplaces where they have family friendly policies … are available. Obviously relationship quality is an important factor because it helps them to foster the functioning of proximal processes. But the functioning can be magnified through the family friendly policies. Because they provide the supportive context. And since the proximal processes are the function of the context, it really helps them to foster the functioning of proximal processes. That creates positive family-to-work spillover. That leads to higher work family balance.

James Loy:

And you did mention family friendly policies. What are some specific examples? What are family friendly policies that can help? 

Hassan Raza:

Some of the family friendly policies that were measured in the data, it was related to the availability of child care. Elder care. And insurance coverage. And the availability of schedule flexibility.

So the schedule flexibility refers to mothers, or individuals’ ability to have control over their starting and closing time.

James Loy:

What do you think are some of the wider applications for both of these studies for working women? What advice do you have for working women who want to decrease conflicts that they feel between work and family? Or increase balance that they feel like they are lacking? What do some of these findings mean? What can we do with this information?

Hassan Raza:

First, employers really need to understand the diversity among working mothers. As I found out that each mother is different. Each working women is different in terms of their work-to-family and family-to-work conflict experiences. So it is extremely important for employers to understand their individual context, to better understand their individual needs. That will increase the ability of employers to help these working mothers based on their individual needs. This is one thing that can … they can really do to help these working mothers maintain a healthy work family balance, and to reduce work-family conflict.

Another thing I found out. That the non-standard work schedule, it basically increases work-to-family conflict. And who is working in non-standard work schedule? These underprivileged working mothers, who are non-white. Who are single working mothers. Who have lower level of education. Who have less power to negotiate, to negotiate with the employers. So if employers make sure that they develop and apply some family-friendly policies in these workplaces as well, that can also help these underprivileged working mothers to reduce their work family conflict. 

James Loy:

And that term you used … you came back to it again “proximal processes” you mentioned a couple of times. What is the importance of these reciprocal interactions, or the significance there? And this is something you plan to study more in the future correct?

Hassan Raza:

Yeah, absolutely. So we have been talking about the proximal processes, the importance of reciprocal interaction, and how they foster individual's development and, consequently, they help … women are more likely to maintain a healthy work family balance. So it means the way we interact, we reciprocally interact with these women, these working women, it can shape their development. In other words, it can shape their work family balance experiences. And the context in which these reciprocal interactions take place can also either limit these reciprocal interactions. Or magnify these reciprocal interactions. 

So employers really want to make sure that those people, especially supervisors, because they are the one who have reciprocal interaction with these women, who are responsible to apply these policies. And if they have positive reciprocal interaction with these women, they provide them with instructional support as well as emotional support, these women are more likely to experience healthy work family balance. The co-worker support. They also have reciprocal interaction with the co-workers. And if employers can create a collaborative environment that fosters collaboration, and that emphasize on strong relationships between the co-workers, it can also help these working mothers to maintain a healthy work family balance. Schedule flexibility. Non-traditional ways to help them maintain a healthy work family balance. When they these mothers would have more control over their schedule, they would be better able to manage their work/family balance.

So these reciprocal interactions, and the context. If these reciprocal interactions will be positive, along with the supportive context, mothers will experience higher levels of work/family balance. Or, they are more likely to experience a healthy work family balance. And it will also help them to reduce their work-to-family and family-to-work conflict.

James Loy:

Alright. Wonderful. Certainly some practical things for us to think about in the workplace. Dr. Raza, thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Hassan Raza:

Yeah, absolutely. And I would be more than happy to provide any references to my listeners, if they need any additional reading, or they are interested studying about these studies that I grounded to conduct my own study. So thank you so much for having me.


James Loy:

If you have any questions, or if you would like an additional information or resources on this topic, you can contact us at And thank you for listening.